- Tremendous performance
- Lively, colorful display
- Can produce great photos
- TouchWiz is bloated and sloppy
- Fingerprint reader and heart rate monitor are useless
- Feels cheaper than other flagships
Quick TakeThe Samsung Galaxy S5 brings top-of-the-line performance and more functionality than any other phone out there. However, its cheap build and messy software keep it from attaining the highs of rival flagships.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a product of hubris. It comes from a company that’s in a position of power, and it knows that millions of people will be lining up to grab it as soon as it’s available. To that end, it’s a device that seeks to iterate on everything its predecessor did before it. It bumps the specs, improves the battery life, boosts the megapixel count, and fine tunes the display. It upgrades, undoubtedly.
It also adds, because of course it does. Samsung’s vise grip on the Android market means it can throw a million ideas at its toy and see what sticks. A fingerprint scanner? Why not. A heart-rate monitor? Go for it. Dozens and dozens of apps and features? You know it. The Galaxy S phones have always been about power and excess, and for all of Samsung’s talk of paring down this year’s model, the S5 knows where it came from. So is this the year Samsung’s bloat becomes too overwhelming? Let’s take a look.
Build and Design
At this point, hoping for Samsung to sell a non-plastic phone is like hoping for the sun to stay down tomorrow. Samsung completely coats their devices in the stuff, which isn’t inherently bad, but the company hasn’t been good at making it feel nice in your hands. But whereas the Galaxy S4 felt like a slate of slime, the Galaxy S5 is more inoffensive than embarrassing. It’s not the premium step up we’ve all been waiting for, but it’s a step up nonetheless.
From the front, though, the Galaxy S5 looks just about the same as its predecessor. The physical home button, two capacitive keys, and logos are all in the same spots as before. (One of those capacitive keys has changed from a dedicated menu button to a more useful “Recent Apps” hotkey, however.) The new device is taller and a smidge blockier — officially, it measures at 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm — but you’d be hard pressed to find any major differences if you put the two phones side by side. If anything, the S5 is a minor regression, what with its larger bezels and less rounded edges.
The S5’s sides, meanwhile, are silver-trimmed and fitted with the same volume rocker and power button. Its top houses the headphone jack and the welcome return of a built-in IR blaster. The bottom sees Samsung switch to a USB 3.0 charging port, which makes powering up the phone noticeably quicker and still supports micro-USB chargers. This is all standard stuff.
That charging port is hidden underneath a distractingly large flap, but with good reason: this phone is waterproof. Well, not waterproof, but the Galaxy S5 is IP67 certified, meaning that it’s water- and dust-resistant. Samsung says you can dunk the device in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes without any performance issues, and in testing we found that they aren’t lying. This doesn’t mean that you can use the S5 in the shower, but you can rest easier now if you ever goof up and spill coffee all over your desk.
The S5’s back is where its biggest design changes are. Gone is the slippery, glossy plastic of the Galaxy S4, now replaced with a solider, dimpled material that’s the next step in Samsung’s weird “faux leather” obsession. In actuality, it’s just a hard, mostly flat piece of plastic with some holes in it. It feels completely unremarkable in the hand, far less luxurious than the rounded aluminum of the HTC One or the sophisticated lines of the Sony Xperia Z2. The phone isn’t ugly, but the materials here just don’t feel like they belong anywhere near a flagship phone in 2014.
That being said, the Galaxy S5’s body is rather utilitarian. One benefit of a wholly plastic phone is that it can’t be all that heavy, and at 145g, the S5 is comfortably light for a 5-inch device. That back cover is completely removable, and the whole thing doesn’t require much straining to hold. It certainly won’t slip, slide and smudge up in your hands the way the One does. And as mentioned above, it’s water-resistant. The look and feel of the S5 is uninspired, sure, but now it isn’t so egregious that it’ll annoy you while you use it. That has to count for something, right?
It’s easier to forgive Samsung for giving its hero device such a boring body when it encases a display as gorgeous as this one. The 5.1-inch, AMOLED panel here is a tenth of an inch bigger than the one found on the Galaxy S4, but its resolution remains at 1080 x 1920. Technically, this means that there’s been a slight dip in pixel density, but no human eyes will really be able to tell the difference. Every game, movie and web page looks sharp.
Colors, meanwhile, are exceedingly rich and vibrant. Whites can get very white, while blacks can get darker than midnight. The only knock is that there’s sometimes a hint of blue that permeates the display, which is typical of OLED tech. It isn’t immediately noticeable when looking at the S5 head-on, but viewing the panel from its side can makes things on screen a bit harder to see. Outside of those unwanted hues, though, viewing angles are good and wide.
Although the Galaxy S5’s display can’t reach the level of brightness you’d find on higher-quality LCD panels, it’s better than the output of typical OLED screens. It won’t be of much use in direct sunlight, but it can still serve as a makeshift flashlight when needed. The phone’s auto brightness settings are especially adept, as the panel can shift from dim to bright quite quickly, depending on your location.